30 Wild Days: day 12 – fairy gloves and witches thimbles

Day 11 was spent working at home and waiting for the rain, but also looking at the bees in some self-set fox gloves.

Fox gloves have lots of folk names, some more sinister than others; common names were Witches Gloves, Witches Thimbles, and Dead men’s fingers.

Fox gloves can cause sickness, stomach problems, and if ingested in large enough amounts even death as it slows down the heart.

However in the medieval and post-medieval period it was used as a medicine, treating everything from heart and liver problems to “scabby head”.
It was used to treat epilepsy and ‘mania’, and there are thoughts that Van Gogh was treated in this way,  and suffered from digitalis poisoning (see here for more this relating to his paintings).

An old saying notes fox gloves could “raise the dead and kill the living”

In Shropshire it was practice to put the flowers into children’s shoes to prevent scarlet fever.

The bee marks (that guide the bees into the flower to get the nectar)  are said to be the markings of fairies wearing the flowers on their fingers.
It was also said that Foxgloves could aid communication with fairies, but it wouldn’t be overly wise to try!



2 thoughts on “30 Wild Days: day 12 – fairy gloves and witches thimbles

  1. calmgrove says:

    I like the conceit that ‘foxgloves’ is really ‘folks’-gloves’ (that is, fairy gloves); but as I’ve read that the German name for these flowers is also fox-related, ‘folksgloves’ may be, if you pardon the phrase, a bit of folk etymology sadly unsupported by historical research.

    But now I have to look up translations of foxglove in other languages or I may become a little red-faced…

    • lucyry says:

      I’ve heard reference to it being to gliew, as old english bell shaped instrument too.

      I’ve seen reference to the folks-glove too 🙂

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